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The Cycle of Prosperity: Ensuring Equal Opportunity

Professor Alex Sandy Pentland, MIT, co-founder of AIWS Innovation Network (, contributes to the book “Remaking the World – the Age of Global Enlightenment.” Here are some paragraphs in his chapter:

“What will the UN 2030 development goals look like? What will we hope to achieve by 2045? I believe…and hope…that the 2030 goals will look very different from the 2015 goals.  The reason is that the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are almost entirely about avoiding harm, and have very little to say about policies that will minimize those harms.   This silence is for a good reason: the development path taken by current rich countries is unlikely to be something that less developed countries can successfully follow.  So what is to be done?  What will be the best path to development in the future?”

“What these studies suggest is that the factors that we usually think about — investment, education, infrastructure, institutions — may not be the direct cause of prosperity. Instead they may make a difference primarily because they help or hinder the search for new opportunities. The fundamental driver of progress in society may be the search for new opportunities, and is aided by people’s skills or capital investment.

This is a fundamental shift in how we think about international development. It suggests that promoting greater access to local opportunities and facilitating resources to harness those opportunities is the best path to building more vibrant, economically successful societies.  It suggests that we should focusing on transportation networks to make neighborhoods accessible to more diverse populations [23], invest in diverse stores and amenities in order to attract diverse flows of people [25], and promote the skills and local resources required for local residents to harness local opportunities.

Importantly, we can use local data to evaluate how to best allocate investments to maximize the expected impact on the overall prosperity and health of the neighborhood. Communities need not rely on annualized values of traditional economic indicators for planning purposes but can instead be able to make reliable estimates of what sort of efforts and investments will best contribute to achieving their vision of a prosperous.”